Jacob Weisberg at Slate is horrified by “Hyper-libertarian Facebook billionaire Peter Thiel’s appalling plan to pay students to quit college“:
… To describe Peter Thiel as simply a libertarian wildly understates the case… In a personal statement produced last year for the Cato Institute, Thiel announced: “I no longer believe that freedom and democracy are compatible.” The public, he says, doesn’t support unregulated, winner-take-all capitalism and so he doesn’t support the public making decisions… Thiel says that the Roaring 20s were the last period when it was possible for supporters of freedom like him to be optimistic about politics. “Since 1920, the vast increase in welfare beneficiaries and the extension of the franchise to women—two constituencies that are notoriously tough for libertarians—have rendered the notion of ‘capitalist democracy’ into an oxymoron,” he writes.
… Thiel, who is openly gay, wants to flee the mob, not rally it… Having given up hope for American democracy, he writes that he has decided to focus “my efforts on new technologies that may create a new space for freedom.” Both his entrepreneurship and his philanthropy have been animated by techno-utopianism. In founding PayPal, which made his first fortune when he sold it to eBay for $1.5 billion in 2002, Thiel sought to create a global currency beyond the reach of taxation or central bank policy. He likewise sees Facebook as a way to form voluntary supra-national communities.
Offline, Thiel is the lead backer of Seasteading, a movement to create law-free floating communes based on voluntary association. Led by Milton Friedman’s pajama-wearing grandson, this may be the most elaborate effort ever devised by a group of computer nerds to get invited to an orgy. (Let’s build our own Deepwater Horizon with legal prostitution!) Thiel is also an investor in space exploration, with the avowed aim of creating new political structures even farther offshore. That could take some time, but Thiel—who loves robots and science fiction—has a plan for that, too. He has given millions to the Methuselah Foundation, which does research into life-extension based on the premise that humans can live to be 1,000 years old. At PayPal, he proposed making cryogenic storage an employee perk.
It should be noted that Thiel has also supported some genuinely good and useful causes, like the Committee to Protect Journalists. But Thiel’s latest crusade is his worst yet… The Thiel Fellowship will pay would-be entrepreneurs under 20 $100,000 in cash to drop out of school. In announcing the program, Thiel made clear his contempt for American universities which, like governments, he believes, cost more than they’re worth and hinder what really matters in life, namely starting tech companies. His scholarships are meant as an escape hatch from these insufficiently capitalist institutions of higher learning.
Where to start with this nasty idea? A basic feature of the venture capitalist’s worldview is its narcissism, and with that comes the desire to clone oneself—perhaps literally in Thiel’s case. Thus Thiel fellows will have the opportunity to emulate their sponsor by halting their intellectual development around the onset of adulthood, maintaining a narrow-minded focus on getting rich as young as possible, and thereby avoid the siren lure of helping others or contributing to the advances in basic science that have made the great tech fortunes possible…
Thiel sounds like half the guys in my own geek-dominated college social circle, only with the money to implement his narcissistic fantasies. His financial success may have more to do with getting lucky picking the right technerds at the right time than his actual Galtian ubermenschen talents, but this ‘Fellowship’ scheme seems to me like a ploy for getting lucky in the old-fashioned sense. For a mere $100k — tax deductible! — a pop,Thiel has engineered himself the opportunity to wine and dine many a hot young man about his brilliant entrepreneurial ideas, if you know what I mean, and I think you do. Sure, some people may have sniggered about Malcolm Forbes’ “publishing empire”, but it was a lot less socially embarrassing for Mal to introduce yet another associate editor or assistant design manager at the club than to pretend he couldn’t keep a secretary for more than a few weeks. Who knows, one or another of those “entrepreneurs” might even turn out to be another Zuckerberg — and at the very least, it’s a lot cheaper than serial alimony.
As for the young men themselves… it’s not as though dropping out of college, however dramatically, barred anyone from going back again once their
sponsor got bored fellowship contract expired. And Weisberg can stop worrying about the lads “halting their intellectual development around the onset of adulthood”… quite a few of us can attest that one outgrows one’s college fads and foibles, whether Marxism, lesbian separatism, cosplay, fanfiction, or Aqua Buddah.